CHICAGO At the American Bar Association's annual litigation conference today, Orlando attorney Larry Smith became the first openly gay recipient of the diversity leadership award for advocating diversity in the legal profession.
The ABA established the award in 2008 to recognize individuals who have demonstrated a commitment to promoting full and equal participation in the legal profession. Diversity awards have gone to various minorities, such as women and African-Americans, but this year will be the first for the LGBT community.
"The section of litigation has had a long-standing commitment to diversity issues and to individuals and companies who support similar goals," said Zesara C. Chan, chair of the Section of Litigation's Diversity Committee of the Council who, along with other committee members, led the award selection process. "Larry Smith's achievements and continuing efforts on behalf of the LGBT community are inspiring."
For the past 14 years, Smith has been a voice for the LGBT legal community. In 1999, he became the first openly gay member of Florida's Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism with the goal of promoting diversity and inclusion of all people.
"At the time, studies were coming out in Los Angeles and D.C., indicating LGBT law professionals made less money and were not promoted as quickly as their heterosexual peers," Smith said. "I would hear stories about men being asked to look more masculine and women made to look more feminine at work, about how gay employees were asked to take down pictures of their partner on their desk or told not to bring their significant other to firm parties."
"I felt if I could educate 90,000 members of the Florida Bar who were smart and open-minded and taught to analyze and be fair on tolerance and inclusion, then I would reach a lot of people," he added.
Smith has published a number of articles on diversity and inclusion and has spoken at conferences around the country at the request of the American Bar Association and other organizations. He also helped found the first local bar association for LGBT attorneys and students in Orlando, the Central Florida Gay and Lesbian Law Association, only the second chapter of its kind in Florida.
Today, new studies indicate people feel more open to express their differences in the workplace.
"We wanted to develop an environment where people were comfortable with who they are," Smith said. "Once you get to know someone, they become a person, not a title or a group. What we've accomplished over the last 10 years has been exponentially greater than what's been accomplished in the past 30 years. And I know we'll do even more in the next five years."
Along with representing the LGBT community in the legal profession, Smith has helped protect the minority group in everyday life around Orlando. He helped persuade the City of Orlando to amend its Human Rights Ordinance to prohibit workplace, housing and public discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. He was successful with similar efforts involving the Orange County Board of Education, the Orange County Sheriff's Department and the Orange County Commission. Smith also volunteers his time locally to the victims of AIDS, writing wills, living wills, health care surrogate and durable power of attorney forms.
Smith is the founder and managing partner of Southern Trial Counsel, a private firm, in Orlando. He chairs the diversity committees of the International Association of Defense Counsel and the Claims and Litigation Management Alliance and is a fellow of the American Bar Foundation. Smith has been recognized as a SuperLawyer for the past six consecutive years, one of Florida's Legal Elite for the past three years and rated an AV-Preeminent attorney by Martindale-Hubbell. He was named 2002 co-person of the year for Florida's LGBT newspaper Watermark. A native of Cherokee, Ala., Smith received his juris doctorate from the University of Alabama School of Law in 1984 where he was member of the national trial advocacy team.